4-page Partner Case Study
Posted: 6/1/2010
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AKOS Technology Services, Inc. Microsoft Infrastructure Planning and Design Guides ‟Make Me a Better Consultant”

Consultants at AKOS Technology Services pride themselves on the IT infrastructure solutions they plan and design for their customers using the Microsoft application platform. Because of the complexity of the technology involved, they are eager to ensure their solutions are as complete and efficient as possible before beginning deployment. The company uses Microsoft Infrastructure Planning and Design (IPD) guides to lead users through a sequence of core decision points during project planning and design. The Solution Accelerators Team at Microsoft provides more than 20 IPD guides, all available online at no cost. Peter Zerger, Consulting Practice Lead for Management Solutions at AKOS, says the IPD guides “make me a better consultant,” and credits them with helping him provide solutions that provide his customers with reduced administrative complexity and greater value for their IT investments.

Situation

AKOS Technology Services is a team of technology consultants providing large enterprises and mid-market businesses with a range of IT solutions including management and monitoring, virtualization, data center services, and core infrastructure.

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* The Microsoft Infrastructure Planning and Design guides make me a better consultant.  *

Peter Zerger
Consulting Practice Lead for Management Solutions
AKOS Technology Services

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A major consulting area for AKOS is in helping organizations deploy and gain the most benefits from Microsoft System Center solutions for IT operations and systems management. System Center solutions help IT pros manage the physical and virtual IT environments across data centers, client computers, and devices. Using these integrated and automated management solutions, IT organizations can be more effective service providers to their businesses.

Peter Zerger, Consulting Practice Lead for Management Solutions at AKOS, is an expert on System Center technologies, an author, and speaker who has been recognized by Microsoft as a Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for his work with System Center Operations Manager.

As one of the world’s experts on Microsoft System Center and related technologies, Zerger believes that the best way to maximize the value of the technology is by continually referencing supplemental deployment and planning information from Microsoft. The challenge was how to capture the best guidance to enable his consulting clients to gain the greatest value from their use of System Center and related technologies.

Solution

Zerger makes extensive use of Microsoft Infrastructure Planning and Design (IPD) guides, created by the Solution Accelerators Team at Microsoft, because, in his words, “The Microsoft Infrastructure Planning and Design guides make me a better consultant.”

The IPD series, available online at no cost, provide guidance for implementing Microsoft infrastructure products. The series is a collection of documents that leads the reader through a sequence of core decision points to design an infrastructure for Microsoft products.

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* We all have a limited capacity within the vast world of IT technology. I actually augment the guides as I go along with additional notes that help me respond to issues that I've encountered before.  *

Peter Zerger
Consulting Practice Lead for Management Solutions
AKOS Technology Services

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IPD guides also provide a means to validate design decisions with the business to ensure that the solution meets the requirements for business and infrastructure stakeholders, an aspect that Zerger finds to be of special value.

The IPD documents are designed to be used by the following IT personnel:

  • Infrastructure planners and architects who have a firm operational grasp of the technology.

  • Partners and consultants who design infrastructure solutions.

  • Systems engineers who need to learn how their systems will be integrated into the overall infrastructure.

  • Business decision makers who wish to understand how the technology decisions being made both support and affect the business.


Microsoft offers more than 20 IPD guides, covering a spectrum of infrastructure products including Microsoft System Center, Windows Server Virtualization, and Active Directory Domain Services. A complete listing of IPD guides is available online.

Each IPD guide is divided into sections that thoroughly explain the following processes:

  • The Design Process. This section includes a high-level introduction to the decision points and activities that need to be addressed in order to complete a given design. The section also includes a decision flow diagram—a graphical representation that shows the reader the series of steps used in planning the infrastructure.

  • The Design Decision Steps. In each step, multiple options are presented for each required design decision, For each option, background information for evaluating the choice, relevant questions needing to be answered, and trade-offs to consider when making that choice are provided.

Perhaps the best testimonial to the value of the IPD guides is that a world-class expert on Microsoft System Center makes the System Center IPD guides, as well as a number of other IPD guides, an integral part of his daily toolset.

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* Infrastructure Planning and Design guides aren’t just for the planning and design phases of a project. At AKOS, we use IPDs extensively even when working with existing infrastructure.  *

Peter Zerger
Consulting Practice Lead for Management Solutions
AKOS Technology Services

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“I'm pretty well versed in Operations Manager, but when I have the IPD guide there with me as I'm building my plan, I can just check myself along the way,” Zerger says. “It nearly eliminates the chance of overlooking key design considerations. The IPDs help relieve the nagging worries that a consultant can otherwise have about having forgotten something that will emerge later to interrupt a project.”

Benefits

Using Microsoft Infrastructure Planning and Design guides has provided AKOS consultants, and their customers, with a number of benefits. For his practice, Zerger finds that IPDs provide continuous value, and helps create better project management. The IPD guides help produce solutions with reduced administrative complexity and greater customer value. The guidance in IPDs can also enhance virtualization and server consolidation projects.

Long-Term Value

While IPD guides have tremendous value for planning and designing infrastructure deployments, they also provide continuing value whenever working with infrastructure. “Infrastructure Planning and Design guides aren’t just for the planning and design phases of a project,” Zerger says. “At AKOS, we use IPDs extensively even when working with existing infrastructure. We use IPD guides to validate designs that have already been deployed to ensure they are doing what they were intended to do with as much efficiency as possible.”

The IPD guides serve as teaching tools as well as early warnings of where additional information might be required. “When working with new technologies that you aren’t familiar with, you can read books and attend classes,” Zerger says. “This is good, but when you don’t have time to read a 1,200-page book, the product’s IPD provides a wealth of completely relevant information.”


“From my own experience I know that an IPD is a great tool for guiding a team through the design and planning process in a way that will uncover problems before we get to the point of pushing the button for implementation,” Zerger says. “An IPD not only helps me build a design, it provides me with the questions I need to be asking along the way.”

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* At the end of the day, IT operations is really about running your business as efficiently as you can so you have more dollars left for innovation. IPD guides help us achieve this.  *

Peter Zerger
Consulting Practice Lead for Management Solutions
AKOS Technology Services

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The guides provide great value when working with existing infrastructure that needs to be upgraded.

“We recently completed a project involving a big Active Directory and Exchange Messaging upgrade for a large school system,” Zerger says. “The group we were working with was under resourced, and they were on aging infrastructure. We immediately saw several areas for potential concern, so as part of our discovery process we implemented System Center to give us visibility into the current state of their IT environment.”

Zerger’s team then used the IPD guides for Active Directory and Exchange Online to evaluate what had been done over the years and to create the most efficient solution for the school district. “IPDs are extremely efficient in helping you to evaluate what has already been done and what should be changed to make the infrastructure more efficient,” Zerger notes. “So, even when dealing with existing infrastructure, IPDs provide continuous value.”

Better Project Management

Project management improves because each IPD guide provides a consistent structure for addressing the decisions and activities that are most critical to successfully planning a given infrastructure technology or solution.

“One of the biggest benefits to using IPDs is fewer false starts,” Zerger says. “You're going to be much more able to come to the right answer the first time when using an IPD to guide your planning and design. The IPD guides help you to discover and identify issues—before you begin deployment—that may have otherwise gone unrecognized until they emerged as problems so big they could have caused you to call off an implementation and go back to the drawing board.”

When Zerger and his colleagues at AKOS began working with virtualization projects, they turned to the Windows Server Virtualization and the System Center Virtual Machine Manager IPD guides to learn more about Windows Server Virtualization and to obtain the guidance they needed to plan an optimal design for their customers.

Reduced Administrative Complexity

IPD guides can help reduce administrative complexity by providing the guidance required to keep a project focused and the infrastructure lean. Zerger believes that the ideal solution should be the simplest design that meets the needs of the organization. He’s found that IPDs are good for defining what is needed, as well as what isn’t needed.

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* Our approach involved better use of their existing Microsoft infrastructure . . .  *

Peter Zerger
Consulting Practice Lead for Management Solutions
AKOS Technology Services

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“With the IPD series you are guided through questions early on to determine what the scope of a project needs to include, and to identify the essential solution criteria,” Zerger says. “By gaining an understanding of the needs, you also understand what isn’t needed. This is an important concept—to leave out unnecessary elements that would otherwise make things more complex than they need to be for the operational team you will be handing the solution off to.”

Reducing complexity can lead to operational savings. “At the end of the day, IT operations is really about running your business as efficiently as you can so you have more dollars left for innovation,” Zerger says. “IPD guides help us achieve this. If we can design a solution that's going to be relatively easy for the customer’s operations team to take care of, it's going to save that company money.”

Using the IPD guides for reducing complexity provides some additional benefits. “If the customer doesn’t answer ‘Yes’ on needing a service as we go through the IPD process, we don’t deploy the service,” Zerger says. “The result is keeping infrastructure to essential services only so that you aren’t soaking up CPU cycles and using RAM for services you don’t need. You gain more value when virtualizing because you aren’t wasting resources. Reducing complexity also is a big help in reducing the potential attack surface in protecting infrastructure from viruses and malicious attacks.”

From Zerger’s experience in working with large enterprises and mid-market organizations, there can be plenty of complexity to control in both segments. “People sometimes think that mid-market customers have much less complex infrastructures, but we have some mid-market customers who have operations in several countries and who have evolved extremely complex Active Directory systems. The Windows Server 2008 and Active Directory IPDs provide a guide to using granular password policies and other features to reduce domain complexity, which is always a good idea, and provides ongoing benefits for users, as well as for the operations team.”

Enhanced Virtualization and Consolidation

Server consolidation projects—in which the number of physical servers is reduced by replacing them with virtual instances, with several instances hosted on one computer—have proven popular with IT organizations. Server consolidation, facilitated with Windows Server virtualization, can bring efficiency and savings. But the deployments must be planned and designed correctly to maximize the value.

“Back in the days when we only had physical servers, it was typical for organizations to commission a new server whenever they deployed a new application,” Zerger notes. “My colleagues at AKOS and I often see that same approach used with poorly planned virtualization infrastructure. Organizations deploy one application per virtual machine.”

The problem can be traced to a lack of planning and failure to make use of the tools that identify which applications can reside well together on the same virtual machine.

“There have been studies showing that a sizable percentage of server consolidation projects fail,” Zerger says. “It comes down to the same elements that make the IPDs so valuable, and that's planning. If you don't clearly define the solution criteria and if you don’t ask the right questions, you end up at a destination that could be a great distance from where you actually needed to be.”

Greater Customer Value

IPD guides help AKOS provide customers with greater value through more efficient use of existing resources and through reducing the need for new resources. “It appears as if IT groups may be facing lean times for quite a while,” Zerger says. “If we can design solutions that are more efficient and cost less to implement, then we gain an advantage over competitors. “These days you don’t want to base a solution upon suggesting that the customer purchase a lot of new licenses.”

Zerger recently worked with the U.S. branch of a multinational company that needed to improve its communications infrastructure to provide a more unified enterprise. The company had already put together a plan, including purchasing several new licenses for Microsoft products.

“They drew a picture of where they wanted to be, and then we drew a picture that didn't involve their purchasing a bunch of new Microsoft products,” Zerger says. “Our approach involved better use of their existing Microsoft infrastructure to enable them to communicate with their parent company more closely and to enable them to work together as one team. The project involved working with Active Directory, Exchange Online, and System Center Operations Manager. We are using the IPDs for all of these products, and for the company it has meant they were able to go back to their headquarters and say they were deploying a better solution than anticipated, while investing far less than had been planned.”

Summary

In summary, AKOS Technology Services has found that even when someone is a recognized expert in an area of technology, Microsoft Infrastructure Planning and Design guides provide continuing value as tools to help deliver efficient IT solutions to customers.

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information on IPD guides, please visit: 
www.microsoft.com/IPD

For more information on Microsoft System Center, please visit: 
www.microsoft.com/systemcenter

For more information about AKOS Technology Services products and services, visit the website at:
www.akosts.com


This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview




Business Situation

AKOS consultants needed tools to enhance their efficiency when planning and designing infrastructure projects for customers.


Solution

The company uses Microsoft Infrastructure Planning and Design (IPD) guides in working with customers. Microsoft provides more than 20 IPDs, as free downloads, covering products including its operating systems, server products, and technologies.


Benefits

  • Long-term value
  • Better project management
  • Reduced administrative complexity
  • Easier virtualization
  • Greater customer value


Vertical Industries
Architecture, Engineering & Construction

Country/Region
United States

Languages
English

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